Wonderful 19th century feminist novel by a dude, published in 1893. Great dramatic pacing and revelation whilst telling the story of the “odd women”, those that do not pair up with men, their struggle compared with the trials within marriage. Rhoda Nunn is a strong 32 year old woman who has a school with partner Mary Barfoot to teach young single ladies how to support themselves via typing. Some of the ladies fall prey to the traps of marriage, like Monica Madden, the youngest sister of Virginia and Alice, who shockingly picks up a man on a public bench, ending up marrying the middle-class Mr. Widdowson who has 600 GBP a year, and who turns into a tyrant upon marriage, refusing his wife to go anywhere without him, provoked by unreasonable jealousy that turns her heart against him. There’s also a scandal of a former pupil who runs away with a married man and becomes pregnant, ending up killing herself after appealing to Miss Barfoot for help. Rhoda bangs the drum and leads the merry band of strong women in her anti-marriage crusade, and then it sorely tempted herself by the cousin of Miss Barfoot, Everard. His motive seems mixed up with both testing the limits of her conviction and also falling in love with her, but they are taken to the precipice of matrimony, and fall back.
One speech given by Miss Barfoot, responding to an abusive letter chastising her for encouraging female competition in the clerkly world:
I don’t care whether we crowd out the men or not. I don’t care what results, if only women are made strong and self-reliant and nobly independent! The world must look to its concerns. Most likely we shall have a revolution in the social order greater than any that yet seems possible. Let it come, and let us help its coming. When I think of the contemptible wretchedness of women enslaved by custom, by their weakness, by their desires, I am ready to cry. Let the world perish in tumult rather than things go on in this way!
Our abusive correspondent shall do as best he can. He suffers for the folly of men in all ages. We can’t help it it. It is very far from our wish to cause hardship to any one, but we ourselves are escaping from a hardship that has become intolerable. We are educating ourselves. There must be a new type of woman, active in every sphere of life: a new worker out in the world, a new ruler of the home… Because we have to set an example to the sleepy of our sex, we must carry on an active warfare – must be invaders… Let the responsibility for disorder rest on those who have made us despise our old selves. At any cost – at any cost- we will free ourselves from the heritage of weakness and contempt!